Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

On the Policy of the KAPD [1]

Speech Delivered at the Session of the ECCI, November 24, 1920

A PROGRAMMATIC speech, as Comrade Zinoviev has remarked, cannot be delivered extemporaneously; I shall have to confine myself to critical remarks pertaining to the programmatic speech made here by Comrade Gorter [2] for the edification of the Communist International. But first, a few preliminary remarks.

Comrade Gorter didn’t simply express the views of his own particular tendency – he excoriated and lectured us, poor orphans of Eastern Europe, purportedly in the name of Western Europe. Unfortunately I haven’t seen Comrade Gorter’s mandate and so I can’t tell whether he was really delegated by Western Europe to give us his edifying lecture. But insofar as I am able to judge, Comrade Gorter’s speech is nothing but a repetition of those criticisms and denunciations and formulations which have been offered us more than once in counterpoise to the programmatic and tactical principles of the Third International which are, as everybody knows, elaborated not solely by us – Oriental Socialists – but jointly with our numerous and ever-growing Western European friends and co-thinkers. Conversely, we can’t possibly forget that Comrade Gorter is the spokesman of a very small and scarcely influential group in the labor movement of Western Europe. In order to eliminate any possible misunderstanding, it is necessary to establish this at the outset.

Had I wanted to emulate Comrade Gorter in undertaking an evaluation of revolutionary political views along cultural-national lines, I might have begun by saying that Comrade Gorter reasons not so much after the Western European manner as after the manner of the Dutch. He speaks not in the name of France or Germany or England with their rich experience of proletarian struggles, but primarily in the name of a section of a small Dutch party which possesses certain virtues of its own but which has thus far been deprived of an opportunity of functioning at the head of great masses in the capacity of a guiding revolutionary force. It partakes more of the nature of a propaganda group than of a combat party. This group contains workers whom we esteem very highly but who are hardly implicated in the sin which Comrade Gorter has so haughtily charged against Comrade Zinoviev (in connection with the latter’s speech at the Party Convention in Halle) – namely, the sin of “chasing after the masses.” A party which in the course of several decades [3] has gained 2,000 members cannot really be accused of chasing after the masses, at any rate, not of chasing them successfully. But according to Comrade Gorter himself, it appears that among these 2,000 Dutch Communists whom Comrade Gorter educated and together with whom he received his own education, no unanimity was reached when it came to an appraisal of the most important events: during the war one section accused the other of supporting the Entente. Holland is a wonderful country but it is not yet the arena of those mighty revolutionary battles for which and through which the ideas of the Communist International are taking shape.

Comrade Gorter has accused us of being Russian, much too Russian. Of course, no human being is so gifted as to be able to leap over his own head. But we still think that his approach to the question is much too geographic; and that this tends to bring him politically into much too close a proximity with opportunists and yellow Socialists, especially when he says to us: “If the Chinese tried to prescribe methods and forms of struggle to the Russians, you would probably tell them that their proposals smack too much of China and cannot be deemed obligatory by you.” Here Comrade Gorter falls into extreme national narrow-mindedness, even if from an opposite direction. From our standpoint world economy is viewed as an organic unity on whose ground the world proletarian revolution evolves; and the Communist International takes its orientation from the entire world economic complex, analyzing it by means of the scientific methods of Marxism and utilizing all the experiences of past struggles. This does not, of course, exclude but rather pre-supposes that the development of each country has its own peculiar features, that specific situations have their peculiarities, and so on. But in order to correctly evaluate these peculiarities, it is necessary to approach them in their international context. Comrade Gorter fails to do this and this is the source of his cruel blunders.

Thus his assertion, that the proletariat remains isolated in England whereas in Russia it is leading the peasant masses behind it, is a generalization naked in point of form, one-sided, and therefore false. The English proletariat is far from being isolated, for after all England is a world state. English industry and the position of English capitalism depend wholly upon the colonies and, in consequence, the struggle of the English proletariat likewise depends on the struggle of the colonial popular masses. The tasks which the English proletariat sets itself in its struggle against English capitalism must likewise take their orientation in harmony with the interests and moods of the Indian peasantry. English proletarians cannot attain their final victory until the peoples of India rise and until the English proletariat provides this uprising with a goal and a program; and in India victory is out of the question without the aid and the leadership of the English proletariat. Here you have the revolutionary collaboration between the proletariat and the peasantry within the confines of the British Empire.

We Russians find ourselves – in terms both of sociology and geography – on the border-line between those countries which possess colonies and those which are themselves colonies. We are a colony in the sense that our largest factories in Petrograd, in Moscow and in the South were obtained by us ready-made from the hands of European and American finance capital which formerly drew off the profits. That a Russian industrial capitalist was merely a third-rate agent of world finance capitalism – this fact tended immediately to invest the struggle of the Russian worker with an international revolutionary character. Russian workers had before their eyes: on the one hand, the combined money-bags of Russia, France, Belgium, etc.; and on the other – the backward peasant masses, entangled in semi-feudal agricultural relations. At one and the same time we thus had in our country both London and India. This, despite all our backwardness, brought us flush up against European and world tasks in their most developed historical forms.

Our understanding of questions of revolutionary struggle, however, was not gained by us on our national soil alone. After all, virtually from the time we first learned to think, we were handed Marx’s teachings which are permeated with the entire experience of the world proletarian struggle in modern times; and with the aid of the Marxist method we analyzed the conditions under which our own struggle occurred. If only partially to atone for our Russian ossification, allow me to recall that many of us participated for a number of years in the Western European labor movement. The leaders of the Russian Communist Party have in their majority lived and fought in Germany, Austria, France, England, America, working there shoulder to shoulder with the best proletarian fighters. In analyzing our Russian conditions and in connecting them up with the march of the world revolution we were not aided by any indigenous Russian theory, but by the theory of Marxism and by the fact that entire generations of Russian revolutionary fighters had occasion to go to the revolutionary school of Western Europe. With your permission I shall only add this, that when Marx and Engels formulated the Communist Manifesto they also happened to belong to the industrially most backward country in Europe at the time. But armed with a method of which they were the creators, they based themselves, in evaluating German conditions, upon an analysis of the experiences of the French revolutions and of English capitalism.

Let me repeat: when Comrade Gorter says that in contrast to Russia the Western proletariat will remain in an entirely isolated position, he here touches upon an indubitable difference between the position of the Russian peasantry and that of Western Europe. But concurrently, he ignores another fact, not of a lesser but greater importance, namely, the international character both of the revolution itself and of world ties. He approaches things from an English insular standpoint, forgetting about Asia and about Africa, overlooking the connection between the proletarian revolution in the Occident and the national-agrarian revolutions in the Orient. This is the Achilles’ heel of Comrade Gorter.

He holds an extremely confused position on the question of craft and industrial unions. Sometimes it seems that the question, so far as he is concerned, touches only a change of organizational forms. But in reality it goes much deeper than that. Comrade Gorter’s entire speech is shot through and through with fear of the masses. The essence of his views is such as to make him a pessimist. He has no faith in the proletarian revolution. It is not for nothing that he speaks so arrogantly of the Third International’s chasing after the masses. Of the social revolution Comrade Gorter speaks like an artist-soloist, like a lyricist, but he lacks confidence in the material base of the revolution – the working class. His point of view is individualistic and aristocratic in the extreme. But revolutionary aristocratism always goes hand in hand with pessimism. Comrade Gorter says that we Orientals are unaware of the degree to which the working class has become “bourgeoisified”; and that for this reason, the greater the masses we embrace, the greater is the danger we face. Here is the genuine keynote of his speech: he doesn’t believe in the revolutionary spirit of the working class. He doesn’t see the great masses of the proletariat beneath the crust of a privileged and bureaucratized aristocracy.

What does Comrade Gorter propose? What does he want? Propaganda! This is the gist of his entire method. Revolution, says Comrade Gorter, is contingent neither upon privations nor economic conditions, but upon mass consciousness; while mass consciousness is, in turn, shaped by propaganda. Propaganda is here taken in a purely idealistic manner, very much akin to the concept of the eighteenth century school of enlightenment and rationalism. [4] If the revolution is not contingent upon the living conditions of the masses, or much less so upon these conditions than upon propaganda, then why haven’t you made the revolution in Holland? What you now want to do amounts essentially to replacing the dynamic development of the International by methods of individual recruitment of workers through propaganda. You want some sort of simon-pure International of the elect and select, but precisely your own Dutch experience should have prompted you to realize that such an approach leads to the eruption of sharpest divergences of opinion within the most select organization.

As a result of his idealistic point of view Comrade Gorter staggers from one contradiction to another. He begins with propaganda as the all-encompassing means of educating the masses and later arrives at the assertion that the revolution is accomplished by “deeds and not words.” He needs this for his fight against parliamentarianism. By no means unilluminating is the fact that Comrade Gorter was compelled to deliver a ninety-minute speech in order to prove that revolutions are not accomplished by speeches but by actions. Previously he had informed us that the masses can be prepared for actions by propaganda, i.e., again, mind you, by speeches. But the whole gist of the matter is this, that Comrade Gorter wants a select group of agitators, propagandists and writers, who remain undefiled by such vulgar activities as parliamentary elections, or by participation in the life of trade unions, but who through impeccable speeches and articles keep on “educating” the masses until they become capable of accomplishing the Communist revolution. This approach, I repeat, is utterly permeated with individualism.

Absolutely false and anti-revolutionary at bottom is Comrade Gorter’s assertion that the Western European working class has become bourgeoisifled as a whole. If such were the case, it would be tantamount to a death sentence for all our expectations and hopes. To engage in a struggle against the capitalist colossus which has succeeded in bourgeoisifying the proletariat when one’s entire equipment consists of propaganda by a select handful – that is a hopeless utopia. In reality, it is only the labor aristocracy, although rather large numerically, that has become bourgeoisified, and not the working class as a whole.

Let us take the trade unions. Before the war they numbered two to three millions in Germany and in England; approximately 300,000 in France and so on. Today they embrace some eight to nine millions in Germany and England and more than two millions in France, and so on. How can we seek to exercise influence over the masses separate and apart from these powerful organizations into which, thanks to the upheavals of war, fresh millions have been drawn? Comrade Gorter points out that many more workers remain outside the framework of the unions than are contained within them. In general, this is quite correct. But just how does Comrade Gorter hope to reach these most backward layers who even under the infuence of the greatest war convulsions failed to join the organized economic struggle of the working class? Or does he perhaps think that only the bourgeoisified proletarians streamed into the unions, whereas the pure ones refused to cross the threshold of the unions? This would be the height of innocence! In addition to hundreds of thousands of privileged and corrupted workers, the unions have been entered by millions of the most militant and class-conscious elements, separate and apart from whom we can never find the road to the most backward, oppressed and ignorant layers of the proletariat. The creation of Communist nuclei within the trade unions signifies that our party is rooting itself in the most active, the most class-conscious and, therefore, the most easily accessible – to us – section of the working class. Whoever fails to understand this; whoever fails to see the proletarian masses within the trade unions on account of the crust of the labor bureaucracy and the privileged layer; whoever wants to engage in actions by going over the heads of the unions – whoever does this, incurs the risk of remaining a prophet in the wilderness.

Comrade Gorter looks upon trade unions and parliamentarianism as supra-historical categories, as magnitudes that are given once and for all. And since the utilization of the trade unions and of parliamentarianism by the Social Democracy failed to lead to revolution, therefore Comrade Gorter proposes that we turn our backs upon the trade unions and parliamentarianism, not noticing that he thereby is, at the given moment, turning his own back upon the working class itself.

As a matter of fact, the Social Democracy – from whom we broke by breaking with the Second International – marked a certain epoch in the development of the working class. This was not the epoch of revolution but the epoch of reform. Future historians, comparing the bourgeoisie’s course of evolution with that of the proletariat, may say that the working class, too, had a reformation of its own.

What was the gist of the bourgeois Reformation? At the dawn of its independent historical action, the bourgeoisie did not immediately set itself the task of conquering power but sought instead to secure for itself, within the framework of feudal society, living conditions most comfortable and best suited to its needs. It proceeded to enlarge the framework of the feudal state, to alter its forms and to transform it into a bureaucratic monarchy. It transfigured religion, personalizing the latter, that is, adapting religion to bourgeois conformities. In these tendencies we find expressed the relative historical weakness of the bourgeoisie. After securing these positions for itself, the bourgeoisie went on to the struggle for power. Social Democracy proved incapable of translating Marxism into social-revolutionary action. The role of the Social Democracy dwindled to an attempt to utilize bourgeois society and the bourgeois state in the interests of the working masses. The goal of the conquest of power, although formally set forth, exercised virtually no effect upon the actual practice. Activities were not directed toward the revolutionary utilization of parliamentarianism but toward adapting the working class to bourgeois democracy. This adaptation of a proletariat not yet fully conscious of its own strength to the social, state and ideological forms of bourgeois society was apparently a historically inevitable process, but it was just that and nothing more, that is, a historical process delimited by the given conditions of a given epoch. This epoch of proletarian reformation gave birth to a special apparatus of a labor bureaucracy with special mental habits of its own, with its own routine, pinch-penny ideas, chameleon-like capacity for adaptation, and predisposition to myopia. Comrade Gorter identifies this bureaucratic apparatus with the proletarian masses upon whose backs this apparatus has climbed. Hence flow his idealistic illusions. His thinking is not materialistic, non-historical. He understands the reciprocal relations neither between the class and the temporary historical apparatuses, nor between the past epoch and the present. Comrade Gorter proclaims that the trade unions are bankrupt; that the Social Democracy is bankrupt; that Communism is bankrupt and the working class is bourgeoisified. According to him we must begin anew and start off with – the head, i.e., with select groups, who separate and apart from the old forms of organization will carry unadulterated truth to the proletariat, scrub it clean of all bourgeois prejudices and, finally, spruce it up for the proletarian revolution. As I have already said, idealistic arrogance of this type is the obverse side of profoundest skepticism.

And today, in relation to the epoch in which we live and particularly in relation to the German revolution, Comrade Gorter retains intact all the peculiarities of his anti-materialistic, anti-dialectical, anti-historical thinking. In Germany the revolution has endured for two years. We observe in it shifts of certain groupings, moods, methods, and so on. These shifts follow an inner logic of their own which can and must be foreseen and which we, on the basis of our analysis and experience, did foresee and did forecast. Meanwhile, Comrade Gorter lacks the least ground for an attempt either to prove or even to claim that the viewpoint he represents is making systematic and planful headway in Germany and is increasing its influence by becoming enriched with the experiences of the revolution.

Comrade Gorter refers with supreme contempt to the split in the ranks of the Independent German Social Democracy. For him this is an episode amongst opportunist and petty-bourgeois babblers, unworthy of his notice. But this only corroborates how completely superficial his viewpoint is. For, back in its formative days and prior to its formal foundation, the Communist International foresaw, in the person of its theoreticians, both the inevitable growth of the Independent Party as well as its subsequent degeneration and split. For us this split is no hollow episode but a highly significant phase in the revolutionary development of the German proletariat. We forecast it at the beginning of the revolution. We had our attention fixed on it. We prepared it side by side with the German Communists. Now we have attained it. The creation of a unified Communist Party in Germany is not a hollow episode but a historical event of the greatest importance. Leaving everything else aside for the moment, this fact has once again demonstrated the correctness of our historical prognosis and of our tactics. In making his formal propagandistic, rationalistic speeches, Comrade Gorter should have thought ten times before pronouncing an anathema against that tendency which is growing up together with the revolution, which is able to foresee its own tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, which is setting itself clear goals and knows how to achieve them. But let us return to parliamentarianism.

Comrade Gorter tells us: “You Orientals are inexperienced in questions of bourgeois-democratic politics and culture; you haven’t got a clear and full picture of what parliament and parliamentarianism signify to the labor movement.” And for the sake of enlightening us, even if only partially, Comrade Gorter explains to us the corrupting influence of parliamentary reformism. Now, if the limited intelligence of Orientals is generally incapable of orientation upon these questions, it is a waste of time even to discuss with us. But I am very much afraid that what is being uttered through the lips of Comrade Gorter is not at all the latest word of Western European revolutionary thought, but only one side of it: conservative narrow-mindedness. Naturally, the Communist Manifesto seemed in its day, and even seems today to many French and British “Socialists,” to be a product of German cultural and political backwardness. No, the argument from the terrestrial meridian doesn’t carry sufficient weight. Although we are now engaged in a discussion at the meridian of Moscow, we nevertheless consider ourselves to be participants in the world experiences of the working class; we know – and our knowledge comes not from books alone – about the epoch of the struggle between reformism and Marxism in the world labor movement; we have closely and critically followed Social-Democratic parliamentarianism in a whole number of countries and we have a sufficiently clear picture of its place in the development of the working class.

The hearts of workers – according to Comrade Gorter – are far too filled with a slavish worship of parliamentarianism. This is true. But one ought to add that in the hearts of certain ideologists this slavish worship is supplemented by a mystical fear of parliamentarianism. Comrade Gorter thinks that if he keeps a kilometer away from the buildings of parliament that thereby the workers’ slavish worship of parliamentarianism will be weakened or destroyed. Such a tactic rests on idealistic superstitions and not upon realities. The Communist point of view approaches parliamentarianism in its connection with all other political relations, without turning parliamentarianism into a fetish either in a positive or negative sense. The parliament is the instrumentality whereby the masses are politically deceived and benumbed, whereby prejudices are spread and illusions of political democracy maintained, and so on and so forth. No one disputes all this. But does the parliament stand secluded by itself in this respect? Isn’t petty-bourgeois poison being spread by the columns of the daily newspapers, and, first and foremost, by the Social-Democratic dailies? And oughtn’t we perhaps on this account refrain from utilizing the press as an instrument of extending Communist influence among the masses? Or does the mere fact that Comrade Gorter’s group turns its back upon the parliament suffice to discredit parliamentarianism? Were this the case it would signify that the idea of the Communist revolution, as represented by Comrade Gorter’s group, is cherished by the masses above everything else. But in that case the proletariat would naturally disperse the parliament without much ado and take power into its own hands. But such is not the case. Comrade Gorter himself, far from denying, on the contrary grotesquely exaggerates the masses’ respect and slavish worship of parliamentarianism. Yet what conclusion does he draw? That it is necessary to preserve the “purity” of his own group, i.e., sect. In the final analysis Comrade Gorter’s arguments against parliamentarianism can be leveled against all forms and methods of the proletarian class struggle, inasmuch as all of these forms and methods have been deeply infected with opportunism, reformism and nationalism. Warring against the utilization of trade unions and parliamentarianism, Comrade Gorter ignores the difference between the Third International and the Second International, the difference between Communism and Social Democracy; and, what is most important, he fails to grasp the difference between two specific historic epochs and two specific world situations.

Comrade Gorter admits, incidentally, that prior to the revolution Liebknecht’s parliamentary speeches were of great significance. But, says he, once the revolution starts, parliamentarianism loses all meaning. Unfortunately Comrade Gorter does not explain to us just what revolution he is talking about. Liebknecht made his speeches in the Reichstag on the eve of the bourgeois revolution. Today in Germany both the bourgeois government and the country are heading for the proletarian revolution.

In France the bourgeois revolution took place long ago, but the proletarian revolution has still not arrived and there is no guarantee that it will arrive tomorrow, or next week or even next year. Comrade Gorter admits, as we all heard, that the utilization of parliamentarianism is admissible and advantageous prior to the revolution. Splendid! But after all, Germany as well as France as well as England – alas! – all civilized countries of the world in general haven’t yet entered the proletarian revolution. We are living through an epoch preparatory to the revolution. If in the period prior to the revolution Liebknecht’s parliamentary speeches could possess a revolutionary significance, why does Comrade Gorter reject parliamentarianism for the current preparatory epoch? Or is he overlooking the difference between the bourgeois and proletarian revolution in Germany? Has he failed to notice an interval of two years between them, an interval which may even last much longer? Comrade Gorter obviously suffers here from an incompleteness of thought, which results in contradictions. Apparently he reckons that since Germany has entered “in general” into a period of revolution, therefore it is necessary to reject parliamentarianism “in general.” But if so, then what about France? Only idealistic prejudices could prompt us to renounce the parliamentary tribunal which we can and must utilize precisely in order to dispel the superstitions of parliamentarianism and bourgeois democracy among the workers.

It is entirely possible that each parliamentary utterance of Liebknecht had a much larger audience in pre-revolutionary Germany than it might have found today. I readily admit that in general parliamentary speeches, even the most revolutionary ones, cannot in an epoch of impending revolution exert the same influence as they did or could exert several years ago, in the hour of militarism’s supreme domination. It is not at all our contention that parliamentarianism always and everywhere has one and the same significance. On the contrary, parliamentarianism and its place in the struggle of the proletariat must invariably be evaluated from the standpoint of the concrete conditions of time and place. But precisely for this reason, a wholesale denial of parliamentarianism is sheer superstition. In the long run, as like two peas in a pod, so such a denial resembles a virtuous man’s dread of walking the streets lest his virtue be subjected to temptation. If you are a revolutionist and a Communist, working under the genuine leadership and control of a centralized proletarian party, then you are able to function in a trade union, or at the front, or on a newspaper, or on the barricade, or in the parliament; and you will always be true to yourself, true to what you must be – not a parliamentarian, nor a newspaper hack, nor a trade unionist, but a revolutionary Communist who utilizes all paths, means and methods for the sake of the social revolution.

Finally we come to Comrade Gorter’s last chapter, The Masses and the Leaders. On this question his idealism and formalism are no less clearly expressed than on all other questions. “Don’t chase after the great masses,” Comrade Gorter lectures us. “It is better to have a smaller number, but of good comrades.”

In this form, the prescription is worthless. In the first place, the example of Holland, and elsewhere as well, shows us that an organization with a small and strictly vacuum-packed membership is not at all safeguarded from ideological vacillations, but, on the contrary, is more subject to them, inasmuch as organizations of the sectarian type cannot possess the necessary stability. Second – and this is most important – it is impermissible to forget that our goal is nothing short of the revolution. But only a mass organization can lead the revolution.

Gorter’s struggle against the “leader cult” is of a purely idealistic, almost verbalistic character; and, furthermore, he stumbles into contradictions at every step. He says that we don’t need leaders, that the center of gravity must be shifted over to the masses. But on the other hand he also warns us: don’t chase after the masses! The bond between the party and the class is fixed – according to Gorter – through a purely pedagogic interrelation between a small propaganda society and the proletariat infected with bourgeoisification. But it is precisely in organizations of this sort, organizations where the fear of the masses reigns, where there is no confidence in the masses, where members are recruited individually through propaganda, where activities are conducted not on the basis of the class struggle but on the basis of idealistic enlightenment – it is precisely within such organizations that the leaders are bound to play a disproportionate role. I don’t have to adduce examples. Comrade Gorter can bethink himself of not a few. (Shouts: The German Communist Party!) The history of the German Communist Party is much too recent. It has as yet led far too few masses behind it to enable anyone to adequately determine on the basis of actual experience the interrelationship between the masses and the leaders. Only now, only after the split in the Independent Socialist Party, which has taken place thanks to the work of the Communist Party (and despite its unquestionable isolated mistakes on which you harp so much), only now is a new epoch beginning in the life of the German proletariat and of German Communism. The education of the masses and the selection of the leaders, the development of the self-action of the masses and the establishment of a corresponding control over the leaders – all these are mutually connected and mutually conditioned phenomena and processes. I don’t know of any prescription by means of which it would be possible to artificially transfer the center of gravity from the leaders to the masses. Gorter points to propaganda by the select. Let us grant this for a moment. However, until this propaganda has seized hold of the masses, and has raised them, the center of gravity will obviously remain with those who conduct this propaganda, i.e., the initiators or the leaders. Time after time in the struggle against leaders, we find expressed in a demagogic form the struggle against ideas and methods, represented by certain leaders. If these ideas and methods are correct, then the influence of these particular leaders amounts to the influence of correct methods and correct ideas; whereas those individuals who are incapable of conquering the masses invariably step to the fore as spokesmen for the masses. Generally speaking, the relationship between the leaders and the masses is conditioned by the cultural and political level of the working class; and it is contingent upon the extent of revolutionary traditions and habits of mass action, as well as upon how large a layer of the proletariat has gone through the school of class organization and Marxist education. The problem of “leaders and masses” has no independent existence. By extending the scope of its ideological influence, by penetrating into all the fields of proletarian life and struggle, by drawing ever-broader labor masses into active struggle under the banner of the revolution – the Communist Party thereby extends and deepens the self-action of the working masses; and without in any way depreciating the role of the leaders, but, on the contrary, raising it to heights unprecedented in history. This entire process, however, tends to bind up this role ever more closely with the self-action of the masses and subordinates the leaders to the organized and conscious control of the masses.

Comrade Gorter says that it is impossible to start the revolution until the leaders have raised the intellectual level of the working class to the point where the latter completely grasps its historical task. This is simon-pure idealism! The situation is depicted as if the starting moment of the revolution actually depended solely upon the degree of the proletariat’s enlightenment and not upon a whole series of other factors – both domestic and international, both economic and political, and, in particular, the effect of privations upon the most disinherited toiling masses. For the privations of the masses remain – with Comrade Gorter’s permission – the most important mainspring of the proletarian revolution. It may very well be that with the further worsening of Europe’s economic position, the revolution may erupt in Holland at a moment when the Dutch Communist Party still represents only a group, few in numbers. Plunged into the revolutionary maelstrom, the Dutch workers will not pause to inquire whether they oughtn’t wait until the Communist Party succeeds in training them to the point where they are able to participate in events most consciously and planfully. It is quite probable that England will enter the epoch of proletarian revolution with a Communist Party still comparatively small. One can do nothing about it, because the propaganda of Communist ideas is not the sole factor in history. The only conclusion that flows from this is: that the working class of England – if through the criss-crossing of major historical causes it finds itself in the near future already drawn into an unfolding proletarian revolution – will have to create, expand and consolidate its mass party in the very course of the struggle for power and in the period immediately following the conquest of power; while, during the initial phase of the revolution, the numerically small Communist Party will – without tearing itself away from the mainstream of the movement, and by taking into account the existing organizational level of the proletariat and its degree of class-consciousness – seek to introduce the maximum of Communist consciousness into the actually unfolding revolution.

But let us return to Germany. When the epoch of revolution began, the German proletariat found itself without a combat party organization at its head. The working class was compelled to build its genuine revolutionary party in the very course of open struggle. Hence – the extremely protracted character of this struggle, and its toll of great sacrifices. What do we observe in Germany? A whole series of offensives followed by retreats, of uprisings followed by defeats; transitions from attack to defense, and throughout: critical self-analysis, self-purification, splits, reevaluations of leaders and of methods, new splits and new unifications.

In this crucible of struggle, and on the anvil of revolutionary experiences never before equaled, a genuine Communist Party is being forged. A contemptuous attitude toward this process as if it were a tussle among “leaders” or a family squabble among opportunists, etc – such an attitude is proof of extreme nearsightedness, not to say blindness. When you see how the German working class permitted its “leaders” – the Scheidemanns, Eberts and others – to enslave it for the glory of imperialism; and how, later, the great masses broke with their imperialist leaders and, seeking a new orientation, created temporary conditions favorable for the growing influence of the Kautskys and the Hilferdings [5]; and how, still later, the best and most militant section among these masses created the Communist Party, numerically small at the outset, but calmly and correctly banking upon the continuing process of the revolutionization of the proletarian masses; and when, moreover, you see the differentiation within the Independent Party and the de facto split between the opportunist leaders, between the democracy of labor and the revolutionary masses who are pulling along with them the best section of the leadership – when you appraise this process in its full scope not from a pedant’s standpoint, but from the standpoint of a revolutionist who thinks materialistically, then you must say to yourself: Here within the framework of a unified Communist Party a new groundwork is being laid in a new situation for the genuine development of the revolutionary party of the proletariat. If Comrade Gorter can’t see this, one can only feel sorry for him. If the organization which he represents here, the KAPD (Communist Workers Party of Germany) – and which no doubt contains many splendid worker-revolutionists – if this numer-ically small organization fears to join the United Communist Party [6] which is not being created through superficial recruiting campaigns but in the birth pangs of the revolution and after a protracted profound struggle, after splits and purifications – if such is the case, then this fear simply means that the leaders of the KAPD still play an inordinate role within this organization; and that they keep infecting the workers under their leadership with the same mistrust of the proletarian masses as permeated Comrade Gorter’s entire speech.

First Published in the Communist International, No.17, 1921.


1. KAPD – initials of the Communist Workers Party of Germany, which consisted of “Left Communists” who split from the German Communist Party in 1920 because of principled differences over participating in parliament, over work in the trade unions, and so on. This tendency was strongly tainted throughout its existence with anarcho-syndicalism. Beginning its political life with a membership of several tens of thousands, the KAPD lost its best elements within two or three years and became transformed into a sect, which remained hostile to the Comintern and to Soviet Russia.

2. Gorter – Dutch writer and poet who for decades remained on the left wing of the labor movement. During the First World War Gorter held an internationalist position. In the years after the defeat of the German revolution (1918-19) Gorter, like the majority of the leaders of the Dutch Communist Party, fell incurably ill of sectarianism. See also the MIA’s Glossary entry on Gorter.

3. The reference here is to the Dutch Communist Party.

4. The Enlighteners-Rationalists of the eighteenth century were the cultural and political battering-ram by means of which the French bourgeoisie was able to breach the bulwarks of absolute feudal monarchy. The majority of the Enlighteners were materialists in philosophy and science (Diderot, Helvetius and others) but in politics, social sciences and history, they held that the decisive factor was knowledge and reason. They deduced the character of the political institutions from the prevalent ideas. Proceeding from this the Enlighteners came to the conclusion that it sufficed merely to change the opinion of kings, and of great people in general, in order to create the necessary preconditions for fundamental social and political transformations and reforms. Plekhanov’s essays on Diderot, Helvetius and other representatives of this school are among the best philosophical writings in Marxism. In English, Essays on the History of Materialism.

5. Hilferding – one of the outstanding representatives of the notorious Austro-Marxist school. In 1907, published his famous book Finance Capital. Throughout the First World War Hilferding was one of the leaders of the “moderate opposition” à la Kautsky. In 1918-20 Hilferding flirted with the idea of Soviets and elaborated political programs in which he fantastically combined parliamentarianism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. When the German “Independents” split at Halle, Hilferding headed the Right Wing of the Independents, and from then on proceeded to evolve in the direction of Scheidemannism. In 1923 Hilferding who had previously condemned the participation of Social Democrats in bourgeois governments entered the Streseman cabinet. He died in obscurity. [After Hitler’ seizure of power Hilferding, who was Jewish, was forced to flee Germany, first to Denmark and Switzerland and then in 1938 to France. After the Nazi invasion of France unsuccessful attempts were made to get him out of Vichy France, but he was eventually handed over to thze Nazis by the Vichy authorities and died in prison in 1941 – it is still unclear whether this was the result of suicide or of injuries inflicted on him by his Nazi captors. – TIA]

6. The United German Communist Party was the name assumed by the German Communist movement in 1920-21 after the merger with the Left Wing of the Independent Social Democratic Party.

First 5 Years of the Comintern (Vol.1) Index

History of the Communist International Section

return return return return return

Last updated on: 19.1.2007